S1E1 Chidimma Transcript

Read the article about Chidimma.

Shane T. Watson: Welcome to project teacher's lounge, where we talk to educators about their time working during the COVID-19 pandemic. My name is Shane T. Watson, and I'll be your host. To the K through 12 educators out there. I want to say, thank you. Thank you for your service. As a teacher, y'all do a lot during a regular school year.

And to be doing it during a pandemic, just, wow. Y'all have the utmost appreciation, admiration and respect from me. You are a true superhero for putting in the extra work to help students become the leaders they will be in the future or whatever they decide to become. Thank you.

[00:00:34]

Chidimma Emelue: Oh. Thank you. That was really sweet. One quick correction though, not leaders of the future leaders of now because kids are the present.


Shane T. Watson: Welcome Chidimma. Chidimma is an eighth grade history teacher in Memphis, Tennessee. We went to Rhodes together. She's probably the first, second or third person I met at Rhodes, but the longest lasting most influential relationship I have from Rhodes college. When you say, or when you hear the phrase, "was you with me shooting in the gym?” Chidimma was literally with me shooting in the gym on the basketball court and in Econ 100, my freshman year when we both struggled to pass that class. But somehow we both managed to pass with at least a B I think,

Chidimma Emelue: I don't know how that happened because I think when we met had a F and I was like, I don't care about this.


So Chidimma, how have you been? I'm going to speak positively and say enlightened. That doesn't mean things have not been a struggle, but I do feel more enlightened at least about my education philosophy and just who I am as an educator.


[00:01:48]

What got you into being an educator? I've always been the person to like tutor and help other people, whether it's my peers or whether it's younger people or Nigerian younger Nigerians in my community here in Memphis.

If I'm doing any community service, there's probably kids involved in some way, whether it's a community center. So for me being both like a babysitter and doing all of that, I've always loved children. And at first I thought that would mean I would make a great pediatrician, but med school. And being a doctor just wasn't it for me. Disappointment to my Nigerian parents, but greatness, because then I said, okay what if I can work for the United Nations and help children on an international scale. And helping students and children, and being able to be there for women and children, whether it's working in NGOs or anything like that.

[00:02:42]

That also didn't work out because I tend to be very drawn to security issues. So when I left Columbia and left the international security policy program there and realized that I genuinely did want to help women and children on the ground and go into communities. I had to think about how, what I could do with that.

So I reached out and I applied to different places. I applied to maybe helping with St. Jude research hospital here in Memphis and saying, okay, maybe I can help with the kids who, are going through this terrible diagnosis of cancer and cancer research and trying to do that. And then I realized, I was like, you know what?

[00:03:23]

I really want to give teaching a chance, but I'm scared because I know nothing about teaching. Like I'm not one to do something. I don't know. I like to be an expert, so it's I'm not going to just go in a classroom when I've never taught before, but I actually had a conversation with Russ Wigginton at Rhodes.

I went to his office one day, happened to run into Dorothy Cox, who was one of my mentors there. And then had a conversation with Russ and essentially both of them in both conversations said, you are actually more skilled at this than you think. And you have all these experiences that can culminate in you being a great educator.

[00:04:00]

And like the one thing you have that most educators don't have is that drive to change the world and help kids. And so I was like, Oh, okay. This is, this feels like when I was at Rhodes, And they try to make me take Chinese. And I was like, I don't nothing about this, but I'm going to try. So I applied and I was fortunate enough to get employment at a charter school here where the founders actually erodes alum as well.

And so I did an interview. I had to make up a lesson from scratch and I did it. They loved what I did with that one lesson. They were like, obviously being a history major. You're really like. Intellectually equipped for this. You just need a few more moves to actually be in adequate, um, educator.

So I said, okay, if I'm going to do this for me to feel like, okay with it, I also need to make a commitment to become a literal master at teaching. So within a week of getting the job I applied I actually missed the deadline to apply, but I appealed and I was like, listen, I'm about to start this job as a teacher.

And I will absolutely get a master's. Master of arts in teaching and y'all are the only school that I can do this with and also work full time. So you gotta make it work. So I actually started grad school a week before I actually started teaching kids a week into orientation as a teacher, and I've been teaching for five years and also received my master's in 2018.

[00:05:30]


It's been five years already?

It's been five years. I know. That's a milestone where you decide, am I going to stay in the classroom or am I going to go marry a billionaire?


There you go. Let's talk about your teaching. What happened in March when the pandemic first hit? A week before spring break, they started talking about, okay, this is getting serious. We're probably going to have to shut down schools. So that Thursday, I was on my way to work. I was trying to get there early. Cause I like had assessments and tests that students need to take. And I got a flat tire on the way to work in the middle of nowhere. So I'm sitting there Oh my God, flat tire.

[00:06:05]

And as I'm like checking my messages and waiting for the people to come told me, I'm getting a bunch of messages on group meet, which is how we communicate. And it's okay, don't freak out. Don't let kids know, but we're going to have to close school today. And I was like, huh. There's only one day left before it break well, what is going on?

And they're like, Oh Shelby County has decided to. Shut down schools because of the pandemic. Like it's a major thing. It's literally a lockdown almost nationwide. So that's what we're going to have to do. So the buses are not going to be running tomorrow. So kids are going home today as a teacher. We don't know if kids are going to be going home for just a week or a longer time than that.

So usually for breaks, we give kids work to do so each subject we'll give them like maybe a worksheet of two pages front and back. So four pages to keep them, their brains active during that time. And they're like, that's not gonna work. You need more because for sure, we're going to be out for two weeks for spring break rather than one week.

[00:07:03]

And I was like two weeks. That's a long time. I get to work because I've missed everything. Literally, my co-teacher's was she's a first-year teacher. She was, I was trained in her and so she didn't know what to do. So I ran to the copy machine. I literally pulled out of thin air, like a week, two weeks, a month worth of stuff and was like, this is what you have to do, kids.

And then the rest of this can just be extra credit. I don't know what made me do a month, but I'm glad that I did because. As of that day, that Thursday, before that spring break students didn't come back to class again and still haven't. And so for the rest of the semester, I think we had two weeks and then we extended for an additional three weeks.

And I think spring break ended up being like an entire month that they were in on zoom, nothing, because we then had a two to three week turnaround to try to figure out how to do online learning. And because of that, I teach social studies or history. And so to the powers that be, and also the education system in general, it's one of the elective courses in life.

[00:08:07]

I know. Crazy to think that history is an elective, but it's not your core class classes of like math and ELA. So they, our school decided which there were feelings about that to just have two classes for every grade level. And because my network has two middle schools, they combined both middle schools.

So now you go from having a students like a hundred students, 110 students to having 200 students in one grade level on a zoom call. And they're only getting math science. And ELA is a combination of history. So they call it humanities. So it's a combination of both history and English and writing.

So that became the new norm. It was, I don't want to cuss cause this is an educational thing, but it was a shit show. And we were using, I believe Google classroom. And so I just remember trying to get a hundred plus kids, at least from my campus, just to log on to Google classroom. So at that time, students didn't even have emails.

[00:09:19]

They didn't have in most of my schools. So it was one of those Oh, my gosh, how do we get all of this done? And kids have had no orientation. His don't have devices. It was literally one of those okay, well, we're just going to make it work. Kids don't need to learn. And um, the ELA teacher decided to do, she was like the lead teacher for eighth grade and she decided to do.

A play. And so my role as a history teacher was then to not necessarily make everyday lessons, but try to figure out which specific parts of the lesson I could provide, like historical context. So I was teaching history. That's not in any of my standards. It was like way after my standards, but still relevant and enlightened that experience of reading the playoffs.

[00:10:04]

Loud being able to discuss and saying you know, why is this happening? It was actually raising in the sun, which is a personal favorite of mine. You know, Shane that I love love reading. So I was not upset or offended that I was an ELA teacher for that rest of that quarter and school year.

But it was definitely different. Kids did not. There was no T cap or the state testing kids did not necessarily get the education they would've gotten in person. And it was just different. It was just new for kids. And I think the saddest part was the students didn't show up. So we literally lost kids.

We didn't know where they were, how they were. I could not tell you which of my kids are in high school currently could not tell you where they've gone to high school. And I think kids just begin. Even the kids who were really passionate about their education became. Bogged down. I call it like the quarantine blues with just the increase of screen time for them screen time is like time to get on Snapchat and IgG with their friends and now it's school.

[00:11:11]

And so for them, it was just like I'm over it. And I'm worried. I'm scared. When I say things change, we as teachers and educators actually took a moment. We took a step before we went into watching the play and reading the play and doing that work. We just talked about the virus. What is it, how do you get accurate information?

It's Tik Tok, a good source. I know the world health organization just joined Tik TOK, but is that a good source for news? How do you prevent yourself from being the person that's currently refreshing to see the numbers and like, how do you manage that emotionally, socially? And how do we as educators help our kids process those feelings because they may not get the chance to do that because.

The people who have really been left out of this conversation because assumably the virus only affected adults. That's obviously a lie, kids got affected too. Having them be able to talk about it. You could tell kids wanting to talk about it. My daughter and her siblings who are also here in Memphis were calling me everyday just to ask questions.

[00:12:19]

Like I had to go find a St. Jude, like coloring book about coronavirus that kind of made it like a kid friendly thing. So I think that. Everything stopped. Even though we were trying to have classes every day. It's like your hands are tied because no matter what you think you would do until the governor makes a decision and therefore the like school board makes a decision.

You're just there. You're literally just waiting. Like even now we're supposed to go back like this January in person, but the school board was like, yeah, we're going to go back in January. And then the cases in Tennessee Rose in Tennessee became the worst place for coronavirus in th